BBC Caribbean
May 5, 2004

Castro pardons Dominican students

Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has secured a presidential pardon from Cuban leader Fidel Castro for three Dominican students jailed in Cuba for drug offences.

Prime Minister Skerrit made the appeal to Mr Castro while he was in Havana last week with a Dominican mission.

The students who were found guilty of cultivating and trafficking marijuana in February 2003, were sentenced to jail for periods ranging from ten to 18 years with little hope of parole.

Mr Skerrit told BBC Caribbean Service that he pleaded with the Cuban leader that imprisoning young men for 18 years was tantamount to ending their productive lives.

"I felt it was important to give them a second start in life," said Mr Skerrit. "I was also mindful of the tremendous distress that has been created for their parents in Dominica."

He said that President Castro was touched by the sincerity of his appeal and immediately gave instructions for the pardon.

Mr Skerrit said he met the students and reprimanded them quite harshly.

"I spoke very sternly with them and they agreed that they did something wrong. They promised from henceforth to lead productive lives."

The students will be monitored by the Ministry of Education on their return to Dominica later this week.